Thursday, January 29, 2015

Match Review

Match Review
When I sat down to watch "Match," I knew very little about it. I knew Patrick Stewart, Matthew Lillard, and Carla Gugino in it, all three actors I really like. I had no idea it was based off of a play, and I did not know anything about it prior. Sometimes, it can be a rewarding exercise to go into a movie cold turkey. But perhaps I am just saying that because I am a cinephile.

Patrick Stewart plays Tobi Powell, an ex-dancer who has retired to teaching dance at the Juilliard dance school in New York City. We don't spend a lot of time focusing on his Juilliard presence, as the film really kicks into gear. It is pretty clear upfront that this is a movie based on a play, just by telling how the angles and sets are set up. With that said, I like the way the film is staged. There is an almost surreal nature to the film when they try to match it to a stage aesthetic. I think the shots in the film are well done.

Tobi Powell meets with a couple played by Carla Gugino and Matthew Lillard. The couple is writing an article on dissertation on the dance community from the 1960's. Before Tobi fell into work as a dancing instructor, he was a popular dancer, and he seems like a perfect candidate to interview for such a dissertation. What Tobi soon starts to realize is that the questions start to become more and more personal and this begins to make Tobi feel very uncomfortable. I don't want to give away what it is that Lisa (Gugino) and Mike (Lillard) are after but it is not a dissertation. I will promise that this does not turn into a weird horror film or anything completely zany. This is a character piece, through and through and it is guided by a terrific trio of actors who all bring their A-games.

Walking into this movie, I had a pretty good idea that Patrick Stewart wasn't going to be anything less than amazing. This is the guy that lead the charge on "Star Trek: The Next Generation," which were my personal first memories of "Star Trek." I always thought that as Robert Downey Jr. was born to play Iron Man, I equally feel that Patrick Stewart was born to play Charles Xavier and every X-Men appearance he makes is vastly worthwhile. This is an actor who has had a great career, and he can add this little gem to his repertoire. We as an audience, have never seen Patrick Stewart play a character quite like this before, and he does a very strong work here. I love how he bursting with uncanny energy at the start of the film, and as the drama catches up with him, we feel the affects the story has on him. Its a great character piece for him and is easily the highlight of the movie.

I also liked the work by both Carla Gugino and Matthew Lillard. I think Matthew Lillard in particular sticks out in this, also because we rarely see work like this from him. Lillard made a career out of being the crazy friend in teen comedies of the 1990s and early 2000's. Now all grown up, it seems his talents have matured a bit. He has the least amount of screen time in the movie compared to the other two actors, but he makes every moment count, he makes sure we feel everything we are supposed to. Even Gugino who has made a career doing sexier, grittier movies takes a turn as someone who is inquisitive on helping her husband. I was blown away by what was accomplished.

I feel like the story gets a little off track near the end, trying really hard to make it to that hour-and-a-half mark. I also feel the quick transition of messages the movie wanted to convey at the end seemed like a weird choice. But overall, this is a grand showcase of acting by three actors who have stepped out of their comfort zones, and in a slower month, that isn't terrible.

FINAL GRADE: B
 


Ted 2 Trailer!

Back in 2012, I enjoyed the hell out of "Ted." It's a movie that sits proudly in my collection and I just love everything about it. I had a feeling that if it opened big, there would be a sequel. And not too surprisingly, there is a sequel. Now, sequels are always nerve-racking, especially in the comedy arena. How do the filmmakers go forward with these characters? How do they create a story that doesn't feel like treading water?

Telling from the trailer, it looks like this is going to be an original story, thank God. I think its safe to say that "Ted" was mainly about the Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis characters, and Ted was more of a supporting character. For what I can tell, it looks like Ted is going to be the main character in this sequel, and it seems the story is going to revolve around him. I have no problem with it, the story seems ridiculous, in a way that I think only Seth MacFarland could pull off. I like that it looks like most of the cast is returning for the sequel (except I don't see Mila Kunis anywhere???). I also have to say that I am excited and curious to see what Amanda Deyfried, Morgan Freeman and John Slattery bring to this material. We know that Liam Neeson was cast in the movie, yet I don't see him anywhere in the trailer, perhaps he has a big surprise, awesome scene?

All I know, is that in the world of cinema, it should be a blessing when a comedic sequel tries to do something different from the original. I like that MacFarland had it in him to do something different, yet make something funny. I hope that is the case this summer.



Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Escobar: Paradise Lost Review

Escobar: Paradise Lost Review
I have no clue if the events depicted in this movie are true or not. The movie never states, nor did I see, a title-card claiming that "Escobar: Paradise Lost" was based on a true story. I have never really taken any time to study Pablo Escobar. I know he was a very prominent drug lord during the 1970's and 1980's. I know his base of operations was in the country of Colombia. He is hailed as the wealthiest drug lord to ever live as he made a net worth of $30 billion by the 1990s. Like many criminals, he had a Robin Hood image that he maintained, which was a merely a myth.

"Escobar: Paradise Lost" really isn't about Pablo Escobar. It is about a Canadian named Nick Brady (Josh Hutcherson) who comes to Colombia to open a surf camp with his older brother Dylan (Brady Corbet). Eventually Nick meets Maria (Claudia Traisac) a girl he quickly falls for. Nick soon learns that Maria's uncle is none other than Pablo Escobar (Benicio del Toro) and Nick soon falls into the temptation of working in the drug trade, something that has harsh consequences on him and Maria who eventually becomes his wife.

I want to say upfront that both Hutcherson and del Toro do good work in this movie. I am continually impressed by the work Hutcherson delivers seemingly every year. I love him in "Hunger Games" no matter which movie in the series it is. I think he was pretty much the best part of that horrible "Red Dawn" remake that came out in 2012. I think "Detention" is the most criminally under-seen film of the last five or so years, and Hutcherson really does good work in it. Once again, Hutcherson is good in this. We feel every moment of excitement when he first lands in Colombia, we feel every moment of him falling for Maria and we feel every moment when he realizes he is way over his head. Its good work and Hutcherson really carries this movie almost single-handedly.

Like I said, del Toro is good, but that is about where it ends. We see del Toro play these kinds of roles before. We knew del Toro would make an excellent Pablo Escobar. The problem here is that it seems he is just going through the motions. He was never given an actual character to play, as written this Escobar is just a sinister figure who seems more presence than feeling like a powerful drug lord. All del Toro's character adds up to is intimidating sneers and looks, by halfway through the movie I couldn't tell if I was watching "Escobar: Paradise Lost" or "Savages," the character del Toro plays is the same in each of those films. I also found it creatively odd that del Toro spends the whole movie looking like a Muslim terrorist. Sure, Escobar wasn't a good looking guy by any means, but he had a certain iconic look to him and Muslim terrorist was not it.

I thought Claudia Traisac was a discovery in this movie. She is a beautiful girl and she sells her character to the best of her ability. But much like with Benicio del Toro, Traisac is never given much of a character to play. She is not much of a character at all, she is merely a device that leads Nick to Escobar. Its too bad because I feel there was some storytelling tension and certain situations that would have benefited the movie, but those decisions were totally missed out on. It's too bad because I truly feel that if Traisac was given a real character to play, she could have done well with it.

As for the movie itself? I hate to say that compared to all the other crime movies involving drug lords, its not much of a movie at all. The motivations of Nick's decisions are very poorly explored, feeling more like several random scenes than an actual movie. What makes Escobar tick and how he possesses so much power was also poorly explored. There is very little development with the characters, there is very little logic to what is happening between the characters and there is very little reason to why we as the audience should care. But hey, Josh Hutcherson is really good in it, and he keeps things moving nicely. It just seems odd that he is trying so hard for something that barely registers as a movie.

FINAL GRADE: C-
 


Who Played It Best? Sabretooth

Who Played It Best? Sabretooth
This one may not be fair this week, but sometimes I just get curious and I have to ask. For those of you who like the X-Men movies and really dig Wolverine, it should be noted that Wolverine and the supervillain Sabretooth are brothers. Yeah, they really didn't flesh that fact out in the first film, but they really began to cover it in the first Wolverine spin-off "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." It's too bad that movie didn't live up to its full potential but oh well. So that means we have seen two different versions of Wolverine's brother. The character first appeared in "X-Men" which came out in 2000 and Tyler Mane played him. I really never understood why 20th Century Fox completely blew off Mane for "Origins." I remember reading quite a bit that Mane really wanted to play the role again, but for some reason Live Schreiber was chosen for the role. So my question tonight is, who played it best?
 
My Two Cents
I am actually a lot more torn over this then I would have anticipated. I mean, the easy thing to say would be Schreiber is the winner, despite starring in the lesser movie. Even though "Origins" features problems galore, they really fleshed the character out, even if they did give the character horrible dialogue. Also, Schreiber was given loads more to do with the character than Mane ever did. Sadly, in the first "X-Men" movie, all Mane did was stand around and look intimidating, not the best thing to do with a character like Sabretooth. I think Schreiber did everything he was asked to do well, but there is just something off about his look. I appreciated something like what Mane did, simply because he had the look from the comics and he had a very commanding demeanor. I felt he almost spoke volumes by mere glances and stares. But, truth be told, Schreiber was given a lot more to do and he really ran with it, flaws and all. For that reason, I give the edge to Schreiber.
 
Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments section below or email me (bloggershawn@gmail.com) with your vote. You have until next Wednesday to decide.
 
LAST WEEK: WHO PLAYED IT BEST? HARRY OSBORN
Last week we took a look at Spider-man's best friend and enemy Harry Osborn, the results are in and here is how the vote shook out.
Not too surprising there.
 


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Cast For the All-Female Ghostbusters Movie is here...

Well, this was not much of a surprise.

When it was announced that Sony was planning an all-female "Ghostbusters" movie, I didn't reject the idea. I like seeing women take the lead in movies. I find it especially healthy when high-concept comedies or science fiction films have an all-female cast at its center. I think its important to start breaking down the stereotypes of female characters on film, and this could be an important building block for that to happen.

When I read that Paul Feig, the director of "Bridemaids" was going to be the director of this "All-Female Ghostbusters" film, I pretty much guaranteed myself that Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig would be involved. Both of these actresses are hot right now, and if there are two comedic actresses right now that can, at the very least, parallel the chemistry of Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd, its these two. Sure enough, in the cast announcement today, there's Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy, front and freaking center. Joining Wiig and McCarthy will be Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon. I am not familiar with the work of Jones or McKinnon, but from what I have read, they are good, although they may not have proven that they are lead material yet.

This cast excites me. But as I was reading more about this project, I started to get a bad feeling. Now, these could just be rumors, but it seems this all-female "Ghostbusters" film may not take place in the same continuity that the rest of the "Ghostbusters" movies. I am reading that this will be another origin story with this team coming together to chase and capture ghosts. I am also reading there will be a Walter Peck like character from the first movie, trying to dissuade the team from catching ghosts, and would you believe me if I told you that Sony is trying to court that role with Bill Murray himself?

Look I like this cast and like I said, an all-female "Ghostbusters" movie has the potential of becoming a good idea. But seriously, another origin story not set in the "Ghostbusters" universe? With Bill Murray playing the Walter Peck character? Does that honestly sound like a good idea? Does that honestly sound like the most creative way of handling this idea? One thing I loved about the first "Ghostbusters" movie was one minor quote Murray had, about how "the franchise rights alone would make them rich beyond their wildest dreams." The idea that Venkman and Ray would open more branches of "Ghostbusters" across the country, maybe across the world...think of the potential in that as a film franchise. The idea of exploring different cultures and different styles of comedy and horror, as well as bringing in different actors for the franchise. This could have been a creative and commercial goldmine for Sony, and it seems they are ignoring it completely. No matter how impressed I am by this all-female cast, if the plan is just to remake the first film with women, the film will surely tank and will become the laughing stock of the franchise. This idea can be much more than what is being rumored, and I hope it is just that...rumors.

What are your thoughts on the casting? And better yet, your ideas on the potential of this as a movie?

SOURCE:
http://www.hitfix.com/motion-captured/now-that-theyve-found-the-new-ghostbusters-what-should-audiences-expect

TWO-PART CAPER: The Teaser Trailer for "Fantastic Four."

TWO-PART CAPER: The Teaser Trailer for "Fantastic Four"
 
It's been awhile since me and my buddy Hunter have collaborated on something on this blog. I apologize for that. I try hard to keep things different and relevant on this blog, and I enjoy having more than one voice for the discussion of movies. But for the first time in several months, Hunter and I are going to be talking flicks together again. Tonight, we will discuss the "Fantastic Four" teaser trailer that hit the internet today.
 

I have been on the fence about this new "Fantastic Four" movie. Yes, I love Josh Trank as a director and "Chronicle" was one of those little-seen hits that snuck up on me and blew my mind completely. It seemed to me that Trank was almost the perfect fit for "Fantastic Four" in my eyes afterward. Then rumors galore began to circle the film and after casting was released, my excitement for the film slightly halted. I just don't know if I can buy Miles Teller as Reed Richards or Michael B. Jordan as Human Torch or Jaime Bell as The Thing or Kate Mara as Invisible Woman. It seems like picking a young cast for the sake of contracts and casting, over any sort of artistic meaning. The Fantastic Four really aren't meant to be kids, and that worried me deeply.

Now today, the first teaser for the movie was released and it wasn't at all what I expected. This really doesn't look like a superhero movie, but honestly, I don't mean as something negative. I've been reading that people are comparing the teaser to a Terrance Malik film or "Interstellar" or "Super 8" and I totally get why people are saying that. It seems this "Fantastic Four" movie will be more about discovery and finding one's potential over the big spectacle. Considering these are the Fantastic Four, I am not sure that is a bad way to move forward. These characters are scientists to making the film more science fiction oriented is smart. If this ends up being a science fiction film that happens to feature superheroes, that may just work. It'll be different compared to what the MCU is doing, and it would further cement the audience forgetting the horrible franchise that happened ten years ago.

I will say that even though this is a teaser, the tone of the film is very dark. I understand the angst in a Batman movie, but that doesn't mean it fits every superhero movie. I don't want this film to be somber and sad just because that is what sells at this point in time. What makes Fantastic Four special is that the tone is fun and the story revolves around a family. Why make it dark because Nolan's "Batman" movies made lots of money? Copying that aesthetic to the recent Spider-Man franchise didn't help and I am not sure it really worked for "Man of Steel." But, I do have to remember that this is a "teaser" and perhaps they didn't add the more humorous side of the movie.

Overall, I am intrigued and curious by what I saw. I was not expecting to be so captivated by this film's teaser so that should count for something. I just hope the teaser's dark tone is just for the teaser and not the movie. If this ends up being a science fiction/superhero film with the fun of the MCU, then this will end up being an awesome "Fantastic Four" movie.

Here are Hunter Kelly's thoughts:

"Fantastic Four has had 3 abysmal live action adaptations since the characters were brought to life by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the 1960's. To date the newest incarnation of the beloved comic book franchise has been plagued by setbacks on set. Rumors surrounding the production of director Josh Trank's (Chronicle) adaptation of the origin story have not been good. From various rewrites of the script, to rumors surrounding Trank himself not showing up to work on set, morale for the movie has not been high. Alas today we saw the VERY FIRST footage of Fox's Fantastic Four reboot, and let me tell you it looks... Well it actually doesn't look half bad. Look, as far as teaser trailers go this trailer is a TEASE! There is next to no plot revealed in the trailer, other than what geeks like myself already know. What we know (or think we know) is that much like The Amazing Spiderman this movie is going to rely heavily upon the Ultimate Fantastic Four plot threads which shows a young Reed Richard (Miles Teller, Whiplash) and his friends Johnny Storm (Michael B Jordan, Chronicle) Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell, Jumper) and Sue Storm (Kate Mara, House of Cards) all getting their powers from being teleported to the negative zone. Look for all I know this movie could turn out to be a massive pile of shit, much like the last films were. But this is all I'm saying, you would have to try HARD to make a movie worse than Rise of the Silver Surfer. Ponder that. Better yet do yourself a favor and watch the trailer for Fantastic Four. Chances are you might think it looks kinda alright too."
 
What did you all think of the teaser? Here it is below:
 
 


TV REVIEW: "Agent Carter" (Episode 3, Season 1)

TV REVIEW
 
AGENT CARTER
 
EPISODE 3, SEASON 1: "BLITZKRIEG BUTTON"
While I have liked "Agent Carter" so far, I beginning to find it incredibly repetitive. Essentially, the show has been episode after episode of Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) going after various McGuffins for Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) in order to clear his name for the American Government. All the while the government is hot on Carter's trail. That is exactly what happens in this instalment. Carter gets a McGuffin secured for Stark, its a weapon called the Blitzkrieg Button and it was sought after a crime boss named Mr. Mink played by Gregory Sporleder. Now, you may know Sporleder whether you realize it or not. He was the snarky villain in my personal favorite action movie of all time, "The Rock" from 1996. You may also remember him in a brief appearance in "True Romance" in 1993 or "Black Hawk Down" in 2001. I think he did a fairly good job tonight, despite being the monster of the week.
 
I kept hoping and hoping that this little mini-series would amount to more than this. I wanted this to be more than just McGuffins and Monsters of the Week. I wanted there to be more to the show than showing the misogynistic issues of the time period without having very much to say about them. So what does a show do to try and get a wider audience and keep it? Throw a few curveballs. First, a rift begins between Howard Stark and Peggy Carter. Apparently, one of Stark's weapons is tied to the Super Soldier serum and Steve Rogers' blood. This angers Peggy because she disagrees with Stark potentially making money off the guy she fell in love with. But honestly, that's a non piece of tension. We know from the previous movies that Howard Stark and Peggy Carter are crucial to starting S.H.I.E.L.D. so obviously they won't be mad at each other for long. Its like "Gotham" ending a show with a cliffhanger involving James Gordon coming to harm. We know Gordon won't die, because he's bound to be the Commissioner, its the same sort of thing with "Agent Carter."
 
But the best part of tonight's episode was the climax. We were expecting a fist-fight between Carter and Mr. Mink when Mr. Mink is surprisingly killed by one of Carter's neighbors. Who is this sweet neighbor? Is wanting to help Peggy Carter? Or harm her? Is she going to help jump-start S.H.I.E.L.D. or will she emerge as the Big Bad? I don't know, but when that moment occurred, I sat up in my seat, anxious to see what happens next.
 
So tonight's episode may not have been overly-exciting, and the series is beginning to become one-note at this point. But it seems there is still life in some of the story threads. I hope that benefits the show overall, I hope it amounts to more than just the same thing each week. What did you guys think?
 


Monday, January 26, 2015

What I'm Watching: I Am Legend

What I'm Watching: I Am Legend
Have you ever seen a movie that was kind of uneven, yet at the same time, you can't help but watch it from time to time? I definitely have that relationship with "I Am Legend." The version starring Will Smith.

Wait...what?

That's right, I Am Legend was a book written by Richard Matheson in 1954. Since it has been published, the book has been adapted into a movie three times, that's right people THREE times. The first was "The Last Man on Earth" in 1964 with Vincent Price. The second was "The Omega Man" in 1971 with Charlton Heston and in 2007 was the Will Smith version which bore the original book's name. Matheson's book, and the movies of course, revolve around a man named Robert Neville, who is seemingly the last man on Earth after a pandemic swept it. Now everyone who is left on Earth suffers from symptoms of vampirism. The book details each day of Neville's life, as he prepares for each vampire attack during the day, and fights off the vampires at night. The book also explores the scientific foundations of being a vampire. Now, I always hate giving away a book, but in order to explain these movies, I have to. See, by the end of the book, Neville gets captured by a group of what look like healthy humans. Except they are not, they are vampires. Vampires who have taught themselves to keep their thirst for blood at bay and also trained themselves to be outside in the daylight for a couple hours. They explain to Neville that he has become a myth, something that strikes fear in this new civilization. Neville then realizes that humanity is no longer the dominant species, its time has paced, and he realizes that he is a legend, a kind of mirror of the old tales of "Dracula" or "Frankenstein." He has become the monster, the spook the haunts dreams, instead of the vampires themselves.

It was a long road to get to the 2007 version with Will Smith, as Warner Brothers had tried to remake this story since 1991. There was a script written by Mark Protosevich in 1995, which was created for Ridley Scott to direct. Tom Cruise, Michael Douglas and Mel Gibson were considered for Robert Neville, but Warner Brothers really wanted Arnold Schwarzenegger for the role, that's right Arnold Freaking Schwarzenegger, imagine him going toe-to-toe with vampires. By 1997, Ridley Scott replaced Protosevich with John Logan, who wrote a very different version of the script compared to Protosevich. The film stayed in development hell for the rest of the 1990's and most of the 2000's. Directors Michael Bay and Guillermo Del Toro were attached to direct, and finally when Warner Brothers got Francise Lawrence to direct, Akiva Goldsman and Protosevich returning to rewrite the script, and Will Smith to star, they were set to make the movie. If you read the credits for the 2007 film, you will see a "Based on a Screenplay by John William & Joyce H. Corrington," it frustrates me that I can't find that script anywhere.

Being the film nerd that I am, I love reading about what it took to get a movie off the ground. I love reading what came before and what could have been. I have read both the Mark Protosevich solo script from 1995 as well as the Logan script from 1997. The final script used for "I Am Legend" used several ideas and even pieces of dialogue from both the Protosevich and Logan script, and it was cool to see how the scripts compared to the final product. I have to say, that even though I like "I Am Legend" with Will Smith, I would have preferred the use of Protosevich's original script. It's the only script that I have read that really embraced what made Matheson's book so original. It embraced the idea of humanity sinking into myth, it embraced a new civilization rising from the ashes of humanity and it embraced what made the vampires tick. Sure, lots of it was still very different from the book and a lot of the film was very action-oriented, but it was the closest we ever got to seeing Matheson's vision realized, and I feel sorry that we never experienced that.

I revisited "I Am Legend" last night. I find it an interesting movie. I may not love everything about it, but its an interesting dose of mediocrity. One of the best moments in the film is the film's opening. We hear news castors discuss sports as the studio credits roll. Then we are view a realistic news story. Doctor Alice Krippen (a brief appearance by Emma Thompson) explaining her miracle cure for cancer. She discusses how she recreated a virus to work for the body rather than against it, and now over a thousand people are cancer free. It's a quick discussion, but its effective, and I find it especially creepy that the scenes ends with Krippen pausing before taking credit for curing cancer. Is she hiding something? Was there going to be a "but" at the end of that sentence? Did we miss something? The screen suddenly goes dark, and then we see a necropolis-version of New York City telling us we are seven years into the future.

I have visited New York City before, and it really is the city that never sleeps. No matter what time at night my family and I were out in the city, the sidewalks were packed with people. So actually seeing a version of the city with no people was enormously effective. I love the very small, very subtle details of how the world plummeted to chaos in the wake of catastrophe and that a lot of it is never explained. Some people hate this, but I love it when a movie shows us a pieces of something, then the audience has to fill in the blanks of how those pieces got there. Its a marvel to take in and I think Francis Lawrence really opened his film with style.

Okay, now let's talk Will Smith. If you have read this blog, you know I have some ill-feelings towards the former Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. I think Smith has become so captured by his own ego that he has become someone I don't recognize now. His company produce the film, and I can bet good money that Smith had a lot of input on the final product. I can tell some of the dialogue is only stuff Will Smith would say in the movie, I think the Bob Marley focus (while I love this musician) was Smith's idea and I think how Robert Neville was handled in the script could have only come from Smith. He has a particular image that he likes to sell, and I figured he would never allow  himself to die at the hands of vampires, claiming himself a "legend." Nope, this Robert Neville had to be some kind of life-altering hero, someone who creates a cure to stop the spread of the vampire virus. While that maybe a nice ending to this "Will Smith Movie," it completely undercuts the ideas Matheson created in his book. With that said, I like the work Smith does in the movie. I think there are very few movie stars working today who can do the "Castaway" style movie. "I Am Legend" is a brilliant watch of how entire stretches of film can behold tension and action with little-to-no dialogue or character interaction. While I may not like Smith personally, he is easily one of the most reliable movie stars we have left in Hollywood, and he gives a dedicated, and often captivating performance. He has to, he's nearly the only eyes we view through to see this empty world of overgrown weeds, and buildings mangled in plastic leftover from a failed quarantine.  It really is good work, and I think Smith sells it well.

The vampires are called Darkseekers in this movie. But really, I should not call them vampires, these are essentially monsters who lust after blood and are sensitive toward sunlight. There are no other major characteristics that make them vampires. In the book, Neville used crucifixes, garlic, mirrors and stakes to fight off the vampires. Even in Protosevich's early script, the "Hemocytes" as they were called, didn't go down after five or six bullets to the chest, those creatures felt more like vampires than the Darkseekers in this movie. But I will say that I dug the design of them. They were barbaric and monstrous and they worked for the film. I also wished they had a bigger presence in the film and that we learned more about them.

I find a movie like "I Am Legend" interesting because of how close it comes to completing its goals. While there is some stuff that bothers me, there so much going for the film in equal measure  that its hard not to watch. This is a movie I present for family and friends, just to see what they take away from it. I still hope that someday we get a better glimpse of the ideas that Matheson conveyed in his classic novel, but I am sure I will be dissecting this 2007 version for many years to come.

You may notice that I didn't write my weekly "Overlooked Film of the Week" nor my "Essentials" reviews this week. I greatly apologize for that, its not that I had nothing to say, it was just a long, fun weekend and I really just wanted to relax. I will have fresh reviews up this week. But me brainstorming on "I Am Legend" had me thinking, and I want to start a new column on this blog.  I want to call it "What I'm Watching" and I want to use this as a platform to discuss movies of all types that had an effect on me in some way. This will give me chance to discuss the more current films I like. "Overlooked Film of the Week" is dedicated to discussing current films that slipped under the radar. I love living in a world where more movies are being released now than ever before, but that also means that sometimes some go almost unheard of. Not here. The Essentials is dedicated to the classics, and why I believe those older movies should be hailed as such. But "What I'm Watching" will allow a venue to dig into the current stuff that we have all heard of, and give me a chance to defend why I think it matters. I believe that all film is important, not how much money it makes at the box office, not which new films are opening next weekend. I think it all counts, the new, the old, the now and I want to create as many venues as possible to discuss the entire pantheon of film. So begin to look for these "What I'm Watching" reviews in the future.

Check out Mark Protosevich's 1995 script here: http://www.horrorlair.com/scripts/legend.txt

Check out John Logan's 1997 script here: http://www.horrorlair.com/scripts/IAmLegend.txt


The Wedding Ringer Review

The Wedding Ringer Review
I have talked to several people who have been married and they have always discussed how stressful the planning of a wedding can be. I bet its even more stressful when you don't have a single person to add to your wedding party. Thankfully, I've never known anybody with that problem but I don't doubt they exist. "The Wedding Ringer" reminded me a lot like "I Love You, Man," but with a much zanier premise.

I like Kevin Hart quite a bit. I think he's a charming and funny actor. I think he brings a lot of energy to the bring screen, no matter if his role is big or small. Yet, it never seems he has had a role that could fit into his style well. I walked into "The Wedding Ringer" a little nervous, just because I didn't want it to be another easy in for Hart and I didn't want to see a altered version of "I Love You, Man." With that said, I thought "The Wedding Ringer" was much better than I thought it was going to be, and I was surprised by nearly every minute of it.
 
I should probably also say that "The Wedding Ringer" is kind of like "Hitch" too. Kevin Hart plays Jimmy Callahan, who is the leader of Best Man Inc. A company that provides a best man and groomsmen for a man who does not have any friends. Business is booming for Callahan until he meets Doug Harris (Josh Gad) a loner who will be marrying the girl of his dreams (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting) in two weeks. Already pressed for time, Harris asks Callahan to perform a Golden Tux, the most elaborate, most complex cover for a wedding party, so difficult that Callahan has never tried it, never even tried to offer it on his brochure of packages. It's nearly impossible to come up with seven groomsmen in two weeks and have them assemble themselves as Harris' buddies, but once Callahan sees Harris' determination, he can't say no.
 
The work by Gad and Hart is confident, funny and even deep at times. As I am familiar with Hart, I was not so much with Gad. But the best thing I can say about him is that I definitely want to see more of him in the future. A role which could have easily been handed to greats like Jonah Hill or Seth Rogen works in a much different way that Gad. Gad doesn't produce the typical loser in the need of a hand, he creates a person we can identify with, even in the smallest of terms. I have never liked Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting in the past, and I have never once been a fan of "The Big Bang Theory" at all. But I feel that even though I find her annoying, she does a good job and completes exactly what she was asked to do.
 
Underneath the craziness of the film, the soul purpose of "The Wedding Ringer" is to remind the audience of the beauty of friendship. It also states that even those who spend their entire lives helping others need to be happy at the end of the day to, otherwise what are you waking up for? Yes, there are moments when "The Wedding Ringer" get a little to plastic. Yes, there are moments when "The Wedding Ringer" feels like every other romantic comedy, no matter how raunchy some of the jokes are. Its that purpose of friendship that finally won me over. Yes, there is some predictability in this movie, but not as much as one would expect. In fact, the thing that shocked me the most was how interesting the premise stayed throughout the whole movie. Even as it held up clichés and plot-lines we have seen a million times before.
 
Movies this fun and this endearing don't get released this early in January. I hope that this is an omen that 2015 is going to be year unlike any other. "The Wedding Ringer" isn't the most perfect thing playing at the theater currently, but for a movie to be this entertaining in a month that is stereotypically crammed with crap, I'll take this pleasantly.
 
FINAL GRADE: B


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Who Played It Best? Harry Osborn

Who Played It Best? Harry Osborn
It seems strangely interesting that I have witnessed two different "Spiderman" franchises in my lifetime. I would have never imagined I would ever see more than one, particularly two back-to-back. This is an kind of a cool time to be a comic book fan, because it seems there are so many voices in Hollywood giving a shot at these superhero characters. In the comics world, there is  not one author who writes the stories of a few heroes, these characters have been put under the microscope and dissected by several writers. So different versions of a character in the movies may seem kind of weird at first, but as a comic fan, it seems normal. Within the last twenty years, we have seen two different "Spider-man" franchises. When this column first started, I already threw down between the two "Spider-man" actors. Now I am going to have Spider-man's best friend Harry.

My Two Cents
This is a tough decision for me, because as much as I love both Franco and DeHaan, I wasn't particularly crazy about either of their portrayals of Harry Osborn. When Franco stepped into the role in 2002, he was still a young actor. I think he's a guy that got better in time, and I think Franco's hitch is in comedy, not action. I love Franco in comedy, but I honestly don't think I ever want to see  him in another action movie again. Then there is Dane DeHaan, I love this guy. I think he's one of the greatest actors of his generation and I thought he would have Harry Osborn in the bag. But that script for "The Amazing Spiderman 2" was terrible, just terrible. Sometimes a terrible script can make a great actor bad, and I think that was the case with Dane DeHaan. So, my vote is a toss up this week, and I don't know where to put my edge.

Agree? Disagree? Shoot off in the comment section below. Or you can email me (bloggershawn@gmail.com) You have until Wednesday to vote.

LAST WEEK: WHO PLAYED IT BEST? GENERAL ROBERT E. LEE
Last week, a real-life figure threw down and here were the results.
I guess he's good at playing presidents


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Movie Question: Does Content Equal Merit?

Movie Question: Does Content Equal Merit?
"American Sniper" had a big weekend. It made boatloads of cash and surpassed some people's expectations. It didn't surpass mine however, I knew it was going to open big. This is a patriotic movie and people flock to films like this by thousands. What shocked me wasn't the box office numbers at the beginning of the week this week. What was supremely shocking was the outcry of controversy that surrounded this movie. Film critics got called out, celebrities got called out, and for a few hours last night, it seemed like the whole country was up-in-arms with itself. I am not here to get into who said what and what it all means. I have a feeling that you probably have a good idea how what was said hit you on a personal level. I am after something specific tonight, and I don't want it to blow into something big, even though I have a feeling that is going to happen no matter what I say.

All over this weekend, my Facebook has been blowing up with reactions to "American Sniper." Everyone I talk to seems to be in unison that "American Sniper" is the greatest, grandest gift Clint Eastwood has ever given us in this lifetime. I am, on the other end, wishing I could see the movie everyone else saw. If you remember from my review Saturday morning, I remember the film being pretty average. I am not going to completely re-write my review, but I will say that the movie left a lot to be desired, especially since I have been reading Chris Kyle's memoir myself. I feel both blessed and shocked that nobody has jumped down my throat about my reaction yet, as several critics have already been lambasted for not loving "American Sniper."

I look over the coarse of film history and I see the exact same reactions, year after year after year. It seems our country gets very obsessed with movies like this, in a very rabid manner. It seems any year when a movie like "American Sniper" is released, every American has to love it. Not like it, not find it okay or uneven, but they have to love it. If  they don't love it, then they are un-American, anti-military, progressive, liberal extremist who are in bed with al-Qaeda. Now, I am sorry, but that is overdoing it a little bit. I love this country, and I want all of these big, militaristic, pro-America propaganda pictures to work. But the fact is they don't always work. It seems to me that a significant portion of Hollywood believes they can write a so-so script about the American military and everybody will love it. So sometimes they don't put much effort into making them, why would they? All of their money will get back to them and more, why break your back?

You don't just see this with military movies. I was almost afraid to see "Selma" last night and I was afraid to see "12 Years A Slave" the year before. Because a sneaking suspicion kept creeping into my soul, telling me "what if the movie(s) is bad? Will you be a racist?" See, in America, not only are we supposed to gush over each American military movie, as a white movie-lover, I have to feel white-guilt, no matter if the movie is bad or not, otherwise I am racist. Or if it has to do with another relevant social issue, then I am a homophobic, xenophobic, sexist, ageist bigot. It seems movies about any relevant social issue sets its audience up to fail, no matter if the intent is to do that or not. I say with confidence and honesty that both "Selma" and "12 Years A Slave" are both incredible. I find them incredible for very different reasons, and not because I should like them or because I am racist if I don't like them. I love "Selma" because its essentially a how-to for organizing a revolution and I don't think Martin Luther King's story has ever been approached that way and in such a confident manner. And "12 Years A Slave?" That's essentially a horror movie. There is no other movie in the world, that I have seen, where slavery is portrayed so realistically and shows how hard a man had to survive living in those conditions. They are both harrowing films, and they deserve to be seen. But does that mean EVERY movie about race has to be seen? Well, if they are made poorly, I say no.

If you are steamed about me not falling all over the floor with love for "American Sniper," then come over to my house sometime. Within my almost 1000 title collection of movies, you will find "Blackhawk Down" and "Saving Private Ryan" and "Platoon," and "Apocalypse Now" and "The Patriot" and about a dozen other pro-America, pro-military movies. You see, I DO like movies about this topic, I just like good movies too. You can't just slap together a relevant subject and expect me to pay money to see it, you have to give a little effort too. You have to make me care about the characters and the story you are trying to tell. You have to challenge or confirm my beliefs and thoughts on war and why we fight. You have to be willing to be ambitious and original. If you can't do that, I will not just bend over backwards to give you praise.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said that African Americans should be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. With me and movies, it kind of works the same way. I don't judge any movie on surface value. You may have a movie that looks good, but if it doesn't feel right, I won't give myself over to it. A pro-military movie, or a Civil Rights movie, or a Gay Rights movie or an Immigration movie won't just sell to me because of what it is, but how the film says its message is everything to me. Content never equals merit for me, but the execution of the content always wins. This is how I feel it should be, and if you disagree, that's okay, but if you are going to call me an anti-American, pro-terrorist, racist for it, then you can sincerely get out of my face.

Am I wrong? Should content equal merit in a movie? Should we as an audience give ourselves over to these movies? Should people be so hostile towards those who disagree? Why or why not?


Monday, January 19, 2015

2014 Awards Circuit: Selma Review

2014 Awards Circuit: Selma Review


The 2014 Award Circuit will be a collection of reviews of films that are in some kind of award runnings within the months of January through March. Not only will this prepare me for the big night (AKA Oscar Night), but it will also allow me to catch up with some of the critically acclaimed films I missed out on in 2014. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy watching and writing them.
 
 
For the longest time, it was always hard for me to watch biopic movies. Especially biopics made about significant Civil Rights activists. Obviously, this was not due to me being racist, but more because I felt Hollywood as a whole never took these important figures seriously. I look at "42" from last year, and I can't help but be overwhelmed by how mediocre it is. I used to sit and wonder if this was all these figures meant to Hollywood. Did the world of film seriously believe that they can just do a quick run through Martin Luther King Jr.'s life or Malcolm X's life or Rosa Parks' life and call it done? And, if I dare say that I didn't like the end result I would be considered racist? I believe every movie needs to be seen fairly and discussed for its merits, not by what the movie is necessarily about.
 
It seems to me that the time of treating these important figures with care is finally upon us. With all that I have said above, it is true that "Selma" is a engrossing experience. Its a movie that cuts deep and leaves fresh scares, but it is powerful at every turn. This is the movie about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I have been waiting all my life to see. Finally a movie that treats him like an important figure instead of a Wikipedia article. That may seem extreme, but it is pretty clear how poor these figures have been adapted over the years in movies. Now, we finally have a movie that respects the man to the core, and we are all richer for it.
 
By focusing the movie on the Selma Marches and what lead to the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1965, director Ava DuVernay gives herself enough story to make MLK's legacy count without overcrowding it with content unrelated to the story. This is the story of Selma, through and through and we learn quite a bit about MLK, at his highest and his lowest. Some of that has to do with the power of David Oyelowo, an actor who frankly disappears into his role. He has the mannerisms and voice of MLK down to a science and we feel every emotion, big or small, that the character feels throughout the movie. I am almost positive that I could write an entire novel about how good Oyelowo is as MLK.
 
I also like that the main focus isn't on MLK but the whole event of Selma as a piece of history. This is a movie that really digs deep into what it means to create a revolution. As the film slowly escalates, its hard to not get anxious with desperation, even though many of us know the outcome. This is a movie that is just as much about MLK as it is about the people who stood with and against him. Honestly, if anybody wanted to begin a revolution over anything, they could use this film as a way to begin the process. The attention to detail is solid, and better than I thought it would be. That detail isn't just in the film's revolutionary attitude, but the costumes and sets feel lived in, not something a studio pulled out of a backlot for movies like this.
 
As I said above, Oyelowo is good, really good. If he wasn't this good, I would not be this happy right now. But the rest of the cast solid too. The work done by Common, Tim Roth, Tom Wilkinson, Carmen Eojogo, Colman Domingo, Cuba Gooding Jr, E. Roger Mitchell, and all the other actors deliver outstanding performances in this movie. Heck, even Oprah Winfrey shines in her couple moments in the movie, she has a couple of big scenes in this movie and she really makes them count. This is a cast that went tooth-and-nail to make something that felt authentic, felt genuine and felt emotional and they all really nailed it.
 
But at the end of the day, it should be noted that this isn't the typical movie about civil rights. This isn't an experience that is mostly empty with some iconic imagery to remind us of what happened in our past. This is a movie that really tries to teach us something. This is a movie that understands the importants of MLK and Selma and Civil Rights and tries damn hard to create something that respects it. I think Ava DuVernay just set the standard for movies like this, and the bar has been set so high that I dare somebody to try and top it. I could not have asked for a better experience on this Martin Luther King Day.
 
FINAL GRADE: A+ 

Hollywood Grapevine

Hollywood Grapevine
I haven't made one of these in awhile, but here is what's been brewing in the rumor mill of Hollywood lately.
 
Avatar sequel now moved to 2017
Man, I am really starting to believe we are never going to see these sequels.

James Cameron, director of the overly-popular "Avatar" has announced that his first sequel to his smash hit will not hit theaters until 2017. "Avatar 2" will begin the first of three sequels to "Avatar" and they will now be released in 2017, 2018 and 2019. First, "Avatar 2" was supposed to be released in 2015, then it got pushed back to 2016 and now it has been pushed back yet again to 2017.

James Cameron stated that the reason for this constant setback is due the ambitious schedule he set for himself. I mean, I kind of get it, how can one write three scripts in a matter of only a couple years? I am loving that Cameron is dreaming big with these sequels and I am glad he is taking the time needed to make them good, instead of merely unleashing a mad grab for cash. All I know is I can't wait for the final result, especially after all this time.

SOURCE: http://www.hitfix.com/news/10-stories-you-might-have-missed-jennifer-lawrence-combines-with-james-Cameron

The upcoming "IT" movie will be "more vicious"
"It" by Stephen King was one of the most horrifying books I have ever read in my life. It scared me so bad that I never looked at clowns the same way again. When I saw the 1990 mini-series, I was young and I thought Tim Curry did exactly what he was told to do. Because I was so young, I was effected by what I saw. But on another viewing I couldn't believe how funny and not-frightening the mini-series was. I think Pennywise The Clown from "It," should be like The Joker. When he makes a joke, he should be the only one laughing, while everyone else is cowering in fear.

It seems Producer Seth Grahame-Smith seems to think the same thing. He has promised that the new film adaptation of Stephen King's novel will be "more vicious" than the mini-series. Good. Let it be said that the book is quite the harrowing experience and there are points where Pennywise was the least scary thing about it. I hope we get an honest adaptation, and if we get it, it will give us all nightmares for generations.

SOURCE: http://www.joblo.com/horror-movies/news/the-new-it-adaptation-will-be-vicious-according-to-seth-grahame-smith-750

Kristen Stewart wants to play a superhero
Now, as much as I hate the "Twilight" movies, I was impressed by what Stewart did in "Camp X-Ray." She showcased a side of her I never thought I'd see and I was just as shocked as anyone to learn that Stewart has the slightest talent hidden somewhere inside her. With that said, she is far from being a favorite actress of mine, or a good actress for that matter.

So it pains to see that she is interested in playing a superhero. Here is what she had to say about it:

“I would love to show people that I can do more than just be ‘Kristen Stewart’ in a different movie, in a different circumstance.” She notes her past role as Snow White in the big-budget fantasy adventure Snow White and the Huntsman could be a jumping off point for a superhero role. “I’m sure I could get on board with Captain America, you know what I mean?… It would just have to be the right thing" She told Yahoo Movies recently.

I don't think she is good enough for this kind of role yet, and because comics are so dear to my heart, both Marvel and DC, I would not want her to ruin characters I love so much. So right now, I am saying no, keep her away from these franchises.

SOURCE: http://www.joblo.com/movie-news/kristen-stewart-would-be-interested-in-playing-a-marveldc-superhero-715

What did you think of today's stories?


Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Essentials- "The Day The Earth Stood Still" (1951)

The Essentials- #91
 
The Day The Earth Stood Still
Do you any of you believe in aliens? If the answer is yes, then have you ever wondered if they are watching us from space? If they are indeed watching us, what do you think they would take away from their observations of the human race? We are dangerous animal, and its sad that we see the worst of ourselves almost every single time we turn on the news. Would another civilization attempt to destroy us because how unstable we are as a civilization?
 
That is the painful question "The Day The Earth Stood Still" asks. This is more than just a science fiction B-Movie, a subgenre that was wildly popular during the 1950's. When fully and completely analyzed, "The Day The Earth Stood Still" is a stunning nightmare. Instead of an alien race coming down to conquer humans for glory and greed, the aliens in this movie come down to destroy a race they see as incapable of saving itself, a race that is doomed for self-destruction. This is, in my mind, a near-perfect way to set up an alien invasion for a film.
 
Let's reflect back on the time this was made. The 1950's were taking place at the dawn of the Cold War. Our country had just won World War II, but there was barely anytime to bask in the glory. We headed straight into another war, but not a war filled with death and destruction...at least not at that time. The belief that a war could spark between America and Russia was a very high threat at the time, and it was something that brought tough anxiety on our nation. But if a fight did break out between America and Russia, would not have been about tanks and soldiers, but possibly nuclear disposals and that scared thousands.
 
When Klaatu arrives on Earth at the beginning of the movie, bearing a message from a powerful alien empire, it is immediately tense. Klaatu is essentially telling the leaders of Earth that they will be destroyed if the leaders of the world do not halt their abundance of atomic power. If such a request was given to the world during the Cold War, would it have been satisfied? It is tough to really deduce. Thinking about our world now, would it be easy for our leaders to just hand over our most powerful weapon out a threat by an unknown force? I love "The Day The Earth Stood Still" for how amazingly thought-provoking it is. It is pretty clear that the filmmakers had some Cold War anxiety during the making of this movie, and I loved how completely they channeled it.
 
The acting isn't bad for a film of the 1950's. This was an era of overacting and extreme emotions in scripts. I think the cast overall handles what they were given really well. I think they all paint a portrait of a world that was as realistic as they could get it. This was powerful material to begin with, and they took it all in with stride.
 
"The Day The Earth Stood Still" was a very early example of how our world as strong impacts on our art, and it is interesting what artists take away from historic events.


Overlooked Film of the Week- "The Wrestler" (2008)

Overlooked Film of the Week-#91
 
The Wrestler
I think after my viewing of "American Sniper," I am more rabid about award circuits than ever before.

I have stated many times that I never let award outcomes bother me. I like to watch the Oscars because I like to see if any awards go to those I deem should be the winner, and also, I always like to see how many nominations I can predict correct. Whether a movie wins awards or not is beside the point. It doesn't matter to me if one of my favorite movies is an Oscar-winner or not, I will always be drunk-in-love with the movies that I love, and no golden statue can take away the feeling I get watching a movie I love.

But sometimes when a winner is so blatantly obvious and they don't win, sometimes the power of that loss can wash over me. Such an event happened during the Oscars of 2009. Mickey Rourke should have won every award he was nominated for that year, and if you have seen "The Wrestler," you'll know why and we will get into it here in just a minute. But when Sean Penn's name was called to the podium, it was enough to send into a manic frenzy. That year I learned these award ceremonies are made up of people with certain opinions. The Academy in particular doesn't care about who truly was the best in each category, they want to sell their own agendas and that just does not ring true to me. Still, to this day, Mickey Rourke gave the best performance by any actor, in any type of character, of 2008, and nothing can take that away from him.

When I saw the first trailer for "The Wrestler," I knew I was going to love it. I can't watch the trailer on YouTube without getting enormously emotional, I watch the trailer and I am drenched in tears. The resulting film is just as heart-wrenching, but is also oddly hopeful. It is a movie about self-sacrifice, about finding a little redemption; no matter how old or broken you are. I think that is a very powerful message, and it can speak to wide array of people.

So as I said, the big draw to this movie is Mickey Rourke. Never has this actor had so much command over the screen, never has this actor been so alive onscreen, and never has a character collided to perfectly with an actor in cinematic history. Randy "The Ram" Robinson is a wash-up veteran in the world of professional wrestling, but he does it past his prime because he doesn't know how to do anything else. Because of this, he left his family and other remnants of a normal life by the wayside. After a rough match, Robinson tries to create a normal life for himself, but the draw to the wrestling ring is more than he can bare. In many ways, Robinson parallels the life of Rourke and watching Robinson bare his soul to rabid, wrestling fans at the end of the film matching Rourke baring his own soul to us. It is some of the most powerful acting in modern cinema, and it will move you if you have not witnessed it.

The work done by Marissa Tomei is sweet, she plays a stripper who gets under the hard exterior of The Ram and is able to steal his heart. Robinson tries desperately to have a meaningful relationship with her, and the scenes between Tomei and Rourke are very good. Then there is Evan Rachel Wood who plays Robinson's estranged daughter. The scenes between Wood and Rourke are often painful but sealed with the promise of true craft. Every time I see these two characters together, it sends a shot through my heart. This is very good acting across the board.

It is kind of odd to me that someone like Darren Aronofsky made "The Wrestler." When you see "Requiem For A Dream," or "Black Swan," or "Pi" or "The Fountain" or even "Noah," there is a certain thematic style than defines an Aronofsky movie. All of the movies listed above are quite stylish and there is a certain dark overtone that Aronofsky loves to play with. With "The Wrestler," Aronofsky adopts an entirely different style, an entirely different overtone and it feels a breath of fresh air, something he would never make, but also something that could not have been made by anybody else.

And the title song by Bruce Springsteen? Kills me every time.

"The Wrestler" was a once in a lifetime moment for both Mickey Rourke and Darren Aronofsky and it is too bad that they were not better represented for their efforts. Still, the undeniable power this movie possesses will shock your system and will remain with you for many years to come.


Saturday, January 17, 2015

Taken 3 Review

Taken 3 Review
 
I actually liked the first "Taken," and sometimes its hard to remember when this franchise was fresh and still had its dignity intact. It wasn't a revelation of the action genre, but it was fun for what it was and it turned Liam Neeson into a full-fledged action star, something I felt he had been moving towards for a couple years prior. It wasn't a movie I expected would have a sequel, but it did. Not only did "Taken 2" leave a bad taste in most people's mouths, it handcuffed Liam Neeson to a particular persona, something that I don't think he's shaken off since. Every action movie he stars in seems like he just playing a variation of Bryan Mills, the character Neeson has made famous in "Taken." "Taken" was always a ridiculous series, but the lack of effort becomes daunting after two movies and a third is just puzzling.
 
It's funny because "Taken 3" shouldn't really be called "Taken 3." For a grand majority of the movie, nobody is ever taken. What "Taken 3" really should have been called was "The Fugitive 2." Because in this third film, Bryan Mills is framed for the murder of his wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) and Mills is hot on the trail to find out who killed his wife and why. He also has to protect his daughter from whoever it was who killed his wife. Essentially, that is the plot of the movie, and after several scenes of "I didn't kill my wife!" from Neeson and several dead bodies later, Neeson defeats the killers and clears his name. Sure, there is much more to it than that, but does that really matter? This whole movie was just an excuse to get Liam Neeson back into character to make the studios behind this movie more money.
 
Liam Neeson is pretty much Liam Neeson in this movie. If you have seen the other "Taken" movies, and if you have seen "Unknown" or "Non-Stop" or any of the other movies Liam Neeson has been starring in the last few years, you've basically seen the output of his talent. Neeson doesn't put a lot of effort towards building a character, because he doesn't have to. I am almost 100% sure that all the dialogue Neeson speaks in this movie are from the scripts of the previous two films. I miss the characters Liam Neeson used to play, I'd much prefer the mentor Neeson to this blank action hero Neeson any day. Maggie Grace returns as Bryan Mills' daughter and the efforts this movie uses to make her a relevant, quasi-badass is just hilarious, pure and simple.
 
Forest Whitaker plays a Los Angeles cop trying to find Mills and bring him to justice. Once again, Forest Whitaker is an actor I like very much, but he's shamelessly useless here. He spouts the same jargon characters like this spout out in movies like this. He's the clueless cop who should be trusting that Mills is actually a good guy but doesn't for the sake of the screenplay. There is nothing new or cool about the character, it's just a blank character.
 
The only good thing about this movie is that Leland Orser and Jon Gries return as Mills' colleagues from the first film. Both Orser and Gries are criminally underrated in Hollywood and watching them both return to this franchise and actually have something to do was exciting. I'd perk up in my chair a bit, each time they both shambled onscreen and they brought an energy the movie drastically needed. At the end of the day though, they just can't save this movie from sucking.
 
The worst thing I can say about a movie is that I will most likely forget "Taken 3" by tomorrow. I barely had enough courage to write this review, because let's face it, if you are not feeling much after a movie, it obviously meant very little to you. If you already knew what I was going to write, why write anything at all. The commercials say this is all ends here, let's hope that tagline is a promise.
 
FINAL GRADE: D-

2014 Award Circuit: Unbroken Review

2014 Award Circuit: Unbroken Review

The 2014 Award Circuit will be a collection of reviews of films that are in some kind of award runnings within the months of January through March. Not only will this prepare me for the big night (AKA Oscar Night), but it will also allow me to catch up with some of the critically acclaimed films I missed out on in 2014. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy watching and writing them.
 
Earlier today I wrote my review of "American Sniper," and it can be said that my reaction really came from reading the book and how poorly I felt it was adapted. Tonight, I watched yet another movie based upon a true story, called "Unbroken." It is also interesting that both movies are directed by two former actors. Clint Eastwood directed "American Sniper," and Angelina Jolie directed "Unbroken." Although it is on my to-read list, I have not read "Unbroken" yet, so perhaps my opinion on this movie might be a little different after I read the book.

I cringed a little bit after I learned that Angelina Jolie directed "Unbroken." Not that I am not a fan of Jolie, she is actually a very capable actress, I just didn't have a lot of hope for her as a director. Her first film in the director's chair was "In The Land of Blood and Honey," an experience I absolutely loathed. I can tell that the only thing that was on Jolie's mind making that movie was awards, and I was afraid she was going to ruin yet another incredible true story again by making a completely awards-centric movie. I was ready to completely write off all the good effort for a movie that was going to feel absolutely without merit.

Boy, was I wrong.

I may not have read the book yet, but I can tell from a cinematic stand-point that "Unbroken" is a elegant piece of filmmaking. It seems like every step that Jolie took in this adventure is in sync with itself. It seems that she embraced the story that she was trying to tell, and the result is something grand at an epic scale. Yes, I still think she had awards on the mind making this movie, but this time it doesn't get in the way of the entire picture. Jolie and the great cast she puts together for this story have created something memorable, something epic and something completely worthwhile.

If you are unfamiliar with the story of Louie Zamperini, its quite the extraordinary adventure. Louie grew up somewhat as a delinquent, but was remedied by his older brother, and he became a very talented runner at a young age. Louie was such a good runner that he participated in the 1936 Olympics. He would then serve our country during World War II as a bombardier, and his plane would crash. He would spend 45 days stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, only to be captured by the Empire of Japan and on an unnamed Japanese island, he would spend the rest of the war as a POW, being tortured by a particularly ruthless warden. How did he survive such an ordeal? By the help of God, and after the war was over, Zamperini devoted his life to him and would eventually give forgiveness to his captors. It's an amazing story, almost surreal in its execution. Its a story that would be very sad if someone messed up. I am happy to say that Jolie did not mess this up. I am shocked how much of a non-impact this had on the world of film criticism.

Jack O'Connell plays Louie Zamperini, a fairly unknown actor from the UK. I may not have heard of this guy before, but I can say that he delivers a mesmerizing performance as Louie Zamperini. O'Connell becomes Zamperini, through and through. But not only does he become Zamperini, he becomes someone in need of a saving grace, but only relies on himself for survival. He becomes man who is constantly being thrown into extraordinary situation after extraordinary situation, and its gripping how believable O'Connell makes his performance. For a seemingly first time actor, O'Connell comes off like a veteran, making good work along the lines with Garrett Hedlund, Domhall Gleason and Jai Courtney, all three of whom do great work here. But its amazing how good O'Connell is in this.

Then there's Miyavi, who plays Mutsushiro Watanabe, the warden of two different prisons that Zamperini finds himself in. What's interesting about their relationship is that Mutsushiro and Zamperini met at the 1936 Olympics, seemingly as friends. Then Zamperini finds out how brutal Mutsushiro is towards "enemies of Japan." Miyavi is a musician in Japan, but he is downright horrifying as Mutsushiro. The way Mutsushiro takes pleasure in torturing Zamperini, the way he is constantly trying to break him, its harrowing work and Miyavi deserves credit for how scary he is as a foil for Zamperini.

The visual effects are outstanding. I was completely engaged by the look of the 1936 Olypics arena, just as much as I was for the ocean landscapes that Zamperini spends time on. Jolie uses a lot more visual effects than she did for her first film, but she uses them wisely. Jolie's strongpoint has always been her use of visuals, and she shows us that she has mastered them this time around. But more than that, she doesn't just make this story feel epic, but she makes it feel relevant and she gives this hero a more than appealing film.

FINAL GRADE: A
 


2014 Awards Circuit: American Sniper Review

2014 Awards Circuit: American Sniper Review

The 2014 Award Circuit will be a collection of reviews of films that are in some kind of award runnings within the months of January through March. Not only will this prepare me for the big night (AKA Oscar Night), but it will also allow me to catch up with some of the critically acclaimed films I missed out on in 2014. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy watching and writing them.
 
"American Sniper" the movie is many things, but one of the things it is not is Oscar worthy.
 
I have only read a few reviews of "American Sniper" before going to the packed IMAX screening I attended last night, and I wonder how many of those critics actually read the memoir of Chris Kyle, the real-life SEAL sniper Bradley Cooper brings to life in the movie. I have actually been reading Chris Kyle memoir and I was nearly finished before I walked into the theater last night. Even though I still haven't finished the book, it is quite clear that director Clint Eastwood didn't do the best job adapting the book to the movie, at least this is what I think.
 
Clint Eastwood might be a great actor, with several iconic roles to his name. He also may have had a somewhat successful career as a director. Sure, I loved his directorial films like "Million Dollar Baby," "Mystic River," "Changeling" and "Gran Torino." But his more recent efforts, like "Invictus," "J. Edgar," "Hereafter," "Trouble With The Curve," and now "American Sniper" are desperately lacking the soul, power and inspiration of his early work. This revelation makes me a little uneasy to watch "Jersey Boys," whenever I get the chance to catch-up with it. I not quite sure where the lack of effort suddenly began to take form, is Eastwood getting sloppy in his old age? Is his one movie a year schedule not enough time to put together a worthwhile movie? I don't know, but one of our most promising talents is quickly losing his grip.
 
"American Sniper" follows the life of Chris Kyle (Cooper), a cowboy turned rancher turned SEAL sniper from Texas. Kyle became the deadliest sniper in SEAL history, and while in the memoir, that number is unclear to Kyle, the most states he has over 160 kills to his record. We also get a look into Kyle's life as a father and when he met and married Taya (Sienna Miller) and how his life overseas affected his life at home. All of this cumulating to Kyle's mysterious death by a former soldier suffering from PTDS, a person Kyle spent his life after his four tours trying to help.
 
Biopic movies are hard, and I have had cruel words towards many of them since this blog started. I just don't see the reason to make a movie that flies through all the big points in a famous person's life, without creating any sort of logical structure in story, nor creating any emotional heft. Simply creating a Wikipedia page style movie doesn't do it for me, I need to reason to believe in the movie I am seeing, I need to be affected by the movie I was seeing. If a director simply goes through the motions, it feels less like a movie and more like a grade school reenactment in a social studies class. Sadly, this is the movie that Clint Eastwood made. We fly through Chris Kyle life, unable to stop to really learn a thing about him. Then by the end of the movie, instead of showing us the tragedy that put an end to Chris Kyle's life, we briefly read a title-card telling us what happened. Why? Out of respect for his family? Okay, but if Eastwood wanted to respect his family, he should have attempted to make a better movie.
 
What shocked me is how stereotypical the movie was, especially since this is based on a memoir by Kyle. Eastwood paints Kyle as a super-patriot who joins the SEALS out his moral sense of duty. When he's out in Iraq, he's the moral rock of his group, when he's at home, he's struggling to keep his family. Sound familiar? Yeah? Because that's exactly what happens in every, other movie like this. What's sad is that Eastwood leaves giant chunks of the book out the movie, things that really detail the type of person Kyle was. Sure, he had a sense of duty to his country, but in the beginning he didn't want to be in the military, and when he did join, he didn't want to be a SEAL. Chris Kyle was an interesting man, and there was a lot to him, and I think the audience never gets a hint of that from this movie. Instead of making something unique, Eastwood just made the same patriotic fare, every other director makes. (And Taya, yeah she was a much stronger woman than the movie portrays, sad.)
 
I guess its not all bad. This is actually one of the very best Bradley Cooper performances. If I didn't know his other work, I would think he was definitely from Texas and he masters the accident. It seems Cooper really focused on becoming Kyle, by his body, his voice and his mannerisms and he does good work. I think Sienna Miller does exactly what she was instructed to do, and she does a fine job. I just wish she was given a better character to play and not just another military wife cliché. The battle scenes are quite engaging, and I'll admit I perked up a little during the action. It is nice that Eastwood can still create a nice action scene, I just wish there was more of an emotional pay-off to what happened in these scenes.
 
If "American Sniper" somehow wins best picture in the upcoming months, I'll be shocked. This is as regular as regular gets, and I just don't see what all the fuss is about over this one, and its somewhat disappointing as I finish the book and see what could have been. Half of the Academy voting for the Oscar nominations hated "Inherent Vice," but thought this one deserved a Best Picture nod? What?
 
FINAL GRADE: C


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

2014 Awards Circuit: Inherent Vice Review

2014 Awards Circuit: Inherent Vice Review
The 2014 Award Circuit will be a collection of reviews of films that are in some kind of award runnings within the months of January through March. Not only will this prepare me for the big night (AKA Oscar Night), but it will also allow me to catch up with some of the critically acclaimed films I missed out on in 2014. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy watching and writing them.
 
Its that time of year again, I have already watched one awards ceremony before seeing all the movies I could see. That is about to change now, and its time for me to get going on catching up with all the Award Circuit movies. Like last year, I will catch up on all the movies that are being flooded with awards buzz, as usually those movies don't get released to the masses until months later. This will give me enough knowledge to make my Oscar predictions in a couple months. I hope you enjoy.
 
I am more than happy to start with "Inherent Vice."
 
I saw this movie on Monday night, and I purposely let the movie sit in my brain for a couple days. I needed to chew on it, I needed to let it sink in. This is a Paul Thomas Anderson movie, a director who has made incredible movies. But sometimes those movies need to be thought about for a couple days, perhaps even seen more than once to fully digest. When I saw "There Will Be Blood" in 2008, I was in high school. I'll admit I didn't fully appreciate what that movie created, and I didn't understand what all the fuss was about. After I saw again a few years later, I was overwhelmed by the craft. I also had to watch "The Master" in 2012 a few times before I made my final decision on it. Anderson's films are multi-layered, they are complex, they are dense. But at the same time, they are filled with entertainment during every frame. Not all of his movies had that huge thought process, both "Boogie Nights" and "Magnolia" floored me the first time I saw both them, and each of those movies became personal favorites of mine. Paul Thomas Anderson makes great movies, but he is an unusually unique artist and sometimes, you have to work for his films.
 
"Inherent Vice" may seem like a batch of A-List actors showing off, and I can understand why someone would think that. This is the most shamelessly pleasant use of popular actors in a crime movie since "The Departed." But it becomes apparent pretty quickly that these actors are just clashing with the script, blending into the goofy, woozy world that P.T. Anderson creates. These actors may look like they are having fun, but the script they are working with is so much fun to listen and view that its easy to see why this cast threw themselves at it. Especially Joaquin Phoenix, who turns out another great performance under Anderson's eye. Just as much as Scorsese and De Niro were a perfect artistic match, it seems the same can said of Anderson and Phoenix. Phoenix did the best work of his career in 2012 in "The Master," and once again in "Inherent Vice" he turns out an unbelievable performance.
 
Phoenix leads us through this grungy, dreary landscape of 1970's Los Angeles. During a time when drugs were easy to find, prostitutes were easier to find, and the hippies were trying desperately to hold onto the 1960's. In the middle of all this is Larry "Doc" Sportello (Phoenix), a private eye who breaks up with his girlfriend Shasta Fay (Katherine Waterston) at the beginning of the movie. A few months later, Fay disappears, apparently kidnapped with her new lover Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts) and he on the case to find out what happened to her. Only to stumble down a strange road of drugs, murder and money. This is essentially what "Inherent Vice" leads up to and it is interesting how P.T. Anderson creates a sprawling epic out of something so simple.
 
While Phoenix is really good, it seems the rest of the cast spends the movie trying to match him. Josh Brolin gives a lifetime performance as Bigfoot, a high-profile policemen who recruits Doc for help. Benicio del Toro also plays a cop helping Doc. There is also Reese Witherspoon, Martin Short, Owen Wilson, Maya Rudolph, Michael K. Williams, and Jena Malone. This is easily the best cast a movie could ask for, and what blew my mind was that the highlight of it all was the work by Katherine Waterston. It's her performance which gives the movie its life, she is the rock of  the entire story and relishes every moment of it. I love how this cast adapts to the wicked sense of humor Anderson creates and how they are able to jive with his unique language in the script. Not every cast could pull this off and it seems Anderson found the right people instead of the best people.
 
To say "Inherent Vice" is an experience would be an understatement to the word experience. Much like many P.T. Anderson movies, "Inherent Vice" is a surreal dream of a movie, a story which feels out of place and time but absorbing nonetheless. It may not ring to everyone's taste and it maybe something you need to watch more than once to appreciate, but it is worth every single minute of your time.
 
FINAL GRADE: A+